Bringing the Duke Community Together: Connecting Participants with Student Organizations

 October 25, 2023

Building a strong and vibrant campus community is a goal shared by many educational institutions, but it becomes even more crucial in the aftermath of a global pandemic. At Duke University, like many other campuses, the impact of COVID-19 has left student clubs struggling to recruit new members, graduate students and postdocs feeling disconnected, and existing campus organizations facing a lack of visibility. These challenges have led to lower engagement levels outside of students' primary responsibilities, hindering the formation of a vibrant community.

Motivated by these issues, our Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) team embarked on a project with a clear mission: to foster a sense of community and bridge the gap between graduate students, postdocs, and campus organizations. We aimed to connect individuals with clubs that align with their interests and provide them with the resources they need to get involved.

Understanding Student and Postdoc Needs

The first step in our journey was to gain a deeper understanding of the needs and preferences of our target audience. To accomplish this, we conducted a survey involving nearly 200 individuals across more than 40 programs, including master’s students, Ph.D. students, and postdocs. Most respondents reported joining clubs to find a hobby, rather than to benefit their professional development. Thirty-four percent of respondents reported not joining clubs due to lack of awareness that they existed, while 30% reported not being able to find the right club to join. We also found that most respondents learned about clubs through Duke advertisements (such as newsletters and emails) and word of mouth. There seemed to be a lack of awareness about where to find clubs centrally, without waiting for an email or an endorsement from a colleague. Only 8% of respondents reported finding clubs through Duke Groups. Our hypothesis was straightforward: while individuals want to engage, they don’t have the information to find the right clubs.

Our Approach

As we pieced together the main deterrents to getting involved in Duke’s campus clubs and community, we realized that we needed to address how Duke graduate students and postdocs find clubs and events relevant to them. From our survey results, it was clear that many (a whopping 34%!) were looking to join clubs and get involved with campus events but didn’t know of any clubs or weren’t able to find the ones best suited to their interests.

The task was set: how could we connect grad students and postdocs with the information they needed to find the clubs that would interest them?

After many brainstorming sessions, our team devised a plan to compile a list of all the campus clubs open to graduate students and postdocs, then conduct extensive reviews for each club. We collected and cataloged the club websites, all social media platforms, and pictures and descriptions of past events that the clubs had hosted, and contacted representatives from 130 clubs to confirm the information we had gathered.

From there we selected those clubs that were active in the past academic year, and open to both graduate students and postdocs, separating out school- or program-specific organizations.

Now that we had all our information and a vision for our end product, it was time to put it all together.

Campus Club Guide

Final Steps

Our team decided on a one-stop guide to Duke clubs for all graduate students and postdocs. We envision this to be a resource that can be used for new community members to familiarize themselves with all campus happenings, or for current Duke students and postdocs looking to get involved or branch out. Our goal is to update this guide annually to account for changes and new clubs, which can be shared with new Duke students and postdocs at the start of every semester.

Students and postdocs can use our guide to find out about and get involved in the clubs of their choice. The guide includes spreads dedicated to clubs pertaining to hobbies, the community, and professional development, depending on what the students and postdocs are looking to get involved with. Whether you are looking for a club’s Instagram page, listserv, or just overview about the club and past events to find the one that is best suited to you, this guide has got you covered.

Lessons learned

The strength of our project lies in its actionable deliverable, which has the potential to make a significant impact by connecting graduate students and postdocs with campus clubs. Our comprehensive guide serves as a valuable resource, featuring a list of active campus clubs and consolidated information about each club. By utilizing this guide, graduate students and postdocs can gain awareness of a wider range of clubs and easily identify those that align with their interests. Moreover, our guide stands out for its well-designed and creative approach, ensuring that the information presented is verified by club representatives, thereby enabling clubs to utilize it for effective marketing. Beyond creating the guide, the data collected from our survey offers valuable insights into the current level of student involvement in clubs at Duke. These lessons have already been shared with key decision makers within The Graduate School and Student Affairs.

However, it is essential to acknowledge certain limitations. Our focus was primarily on clubs registered on DukeGroups, potentially missing out on actively functioning clubs that are not registered. While such clubs are discouraged by the university, they do exist. Additionally, we filtered out clubs for which we didn't receive responses from their representatives. This could introduce some bias as data collection occurred during spring break, necessitating further outreach to representatives at a later stage. It's important to note that while our guide provides valuable information, it may not encompass all clubs on campus and will require future updates to remain current. Despite these limitations, we firmly believe our project serves as an invaluable starting point.

Personal impact and ELI’s value

The personal impacts of this project extend beyond the mere accomplishments presented above. Equally significant is the way in which we, as a team of three, approached and executed the project. ELI provided us with an invaluable opportunity to delve into self-discovery, enhance our teamwork skills, nurture our leadership abilities, and put into practice what we have learned throughout the project. Throughout this process, each team member gained a deeper understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses. Some realized the importance of further developing their empathy and humanity, while others recognized the need to focus on improving their communication skills by expressing themselves without letting emotions interfere.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to our wonderful ELI facilitators, The Graduate School, Office of Postdoctoral Services, Interim Vice Provost Mohamed Noor, student organization leaders, our 2023 ELI cohort, and all the clubs that make Duke feel like home!


rich stureborg headshot
Rich Stureborg

Ph.D. candidate, Computer Science

Rickard (Rich) Stureborg is a fourth-year Computer Science Ph.D. student at Duke University. His research is focused on vaccine misinformation and high-difficulty, high-subjectivity tasks in NLP and is co-advised by Jun Yang and Bhuwan Dhingra. Rich is co-president of Duke Advanced-Degree Consulting Club (DACC), a consulting organization that provides pro-bono technical and management consulting for businesses across the United States. He is also active in the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) and helped to negotiate the recent Ph.D. stipend increase as part of the Ph.D. Stipend Task Force. Rich spends his free time building things, breaking things, and trying to put things he has broken back together again before anyone notices.

Maheen Sheikh headshot
Maheen Sheikh

Postdoc, Department of Pediatric Medical Genetics

Maheen Sheikh, M.B.B.S. is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Pediatric Medical Genetics at Duke University School of Medicine. Her professional interests include pediatric gastroenterology and global health. She received her medical degree from the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, where she continued her training as a clinical research fellow in Pediatrics, with a research focus on child nutrition, infectious disease, and fetomaternal health in low-resource settings. At Duke, her research focuses on understanding the natural history of hepatic glycogen storage diseases. In her free time, Maheen enjoys baking, traveling, and playing the ukulele.

Fiona Wu
Fiona Wu

Recent master's graduate, Economics and Computation

Fiona Wu is a Data Scientist at CapitalOne. She is a recent graduate of the M.S. in Economics and Computation program. She is interested in deep learning, applications of machine learning in finance, and utilizing data science methods to drive business insights. She has been working as a Data Science intern in several leading tech companies. During her last internship at Capital One, she implemented distributed ML pipelines and built valuation models. She received her B.S. in Economics from Jinan University in 2016. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, hiking, and photography.